Opinion |

As Long as U.S. Aid Isn't in Question, Israeli Settlements Are Here to Stay

Neither the terrifying Donald Trump nor the more reasonable Hillary Clinton will change the trend in any way.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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A still from “The Settlers,” which premiered Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival.
A still from “The Settlers,” which premiered Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival.Credit: Philippe Bellaiche
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are heatedly arguing over whether the U.S. military aid agreement is a success or failure. Could the deal, which grants Israel the largest sum in the history of the two countries’ relations, have been better without Netanyahu’s speech to Congress against Barack Obama on the Iranian nuclear agreement?

Would it have been better if he simply showed the U.S. president a bit more respect? For example, he didn’t necessarily have to openly support a different candidate for president, and he didn’t have to appoint a declared Republican as Israel’s ambassador. Or – just a little thing – he didn’t have to appoint as his chief spokesman a man who called Obama “anti-Semitic.”

The gist of the dispute is the realization that the distorted relations between a superpower and a vassal state have undergone a kind of cartoonish reversal. It could be that the nominal or real gaps between the old aid package and the new one are trivial. Either way, the aid itself, which is received here with more nonchalance than the sun rising, is a crazy bonanza for Israel and testimony to the weakness of the American government.

For a long time, certainly since it captured the territories in 1967, Israel has done largely what it wants. This is based on the popular belief – justified by politicians and defense officials – that the United States has to thank Israel for its existence and the right to pay it hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Netanyahu didn’t invent this; he may only have refined it and added the embittered relations with the current president.

The United States hasn’t recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. Various attempts since the end of that war to promote a withdrawal from the territories and stop the settlement enterprise have led nowhere. Every once in a while Washington has tried to oppose the occupation and settlements using practical means, too.

James Baker, for example, dared make the granting of loan guarantees for absorbing Soviet immigrants conditional on the money not being used for settlement construction. He discovered that, with Aipac’s support, Israel was threatening to bypass the administration and ask Congress for the guarantees.

But in the end, without the use of a real stick, Israel continued to ignore the administration’s position. Israel remained in the territories and expanded the settlements until it turned them into an integral, even choice part of the State of Israel.

If you will, let’s remain faithful to the image Netanyahu provided in his speech to the Aipac conference in March 2015. Employing a bit of Yiddish, he said Israel and the United States were mishpoche (family). After all, in many families there’s a disturbed child who terrorizes his parents, and they opt for the variant of giving in.

Once in a while, when he does something really annoying, the family applies a quarter of its muscle to keep him in line, which is accompanied by half a look. For example, they ask for a temporary construction freeze in the territories, which he has been asked to evacuate for the past 30 years.

The more these relations are twisted, the more the disturbed child becomes convinced in the validity of his false conception of reality. The more these relations are twisted, the more he wraps his critical lack of understanding in imaginary existential angst (anti-Semitism, destruction, the Holocaust), or in flattery (bravery, Israeli chutzpah).

And maybe the United States, just as Israel, is suffering from a syndrome too, a phantom limb syndrome. It feels it still has a limb it lost long ago.

If you observe the candidates in the U.S. presidential election, you realize that what has been is what will be. Neither the terrifying Donald Trump nor the more reasonable Hillary Clinton will change the trend in any way. The friendship with Israel isn’t in any doubt, and the military aid isn’t in any doubt. As a result, Israel’s rule over the territories isn’t in any doubt.

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